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How social media can matter in a medical malpractice case

Realtime social media engagement by health care professionals by patient care is discoverable

LinkedIn, Twitter, and other social media outlets are great tools to share ideas, knowledge, and information. They’re also useful ways to make connections. I know I’ve learned things and benefited from meeting some amazing clients and expert witnesses through social media.

Over the past few months, though, I’ve seen an interesting twist. Some professionals involved in health care are posting things that, as a former hospital administrator, make me cringe. As a Texas medical malpractice attorney, though, I view these social media posts as an important new source of information.

Mid-levels seeking online treatment advice

Physicians are medical doctors and have the highest level of education and clinical training in the health care. Mid-level providers are also part of the health care team and include physician assistants, nurse practitioners, and certified registered nurse anesthetists (CRNAs).

There’s a robust debate on social media and elsewhere about scope creep. Scope creep is advocacy of mid-level provider organizations to obtain more independent practice authority through new laws and rules. Many mid-level providers contend that the quality of their care is at least equal to that of physicians. Medical doctors vehemently disagree.

In monitoring the online debate over scope creep, I’ve seen numerous posts of mid-level providers using social media to request input and advice on treating real patients in real time.

In one post to an online nurse practitioner group, a nurse practitioner included a screenshot of a patient’s laboratory values and asked for advice on how to interpret them.

Another nurse practitioner posted a screen shot of a patient’s EKG and asked for thoughts on it.

I’ve seen similar posts from physician assistants.

It’s not my purpose to dive into the scope creep debate here. Rather, I aim to point out that social media is now an essential tool for medical malpractice attorneys to use in order to investigate training, competence, expertise, and even potential posts about a patient (plaintiff) in a medical negligence lawsuit.

Staffing complaints

It’s a routine part of our due diligence to search for social media posts by defendants during the health care at issue. One issue that’s closely examined in many medical malpractice lawsuits is the question of staffing levels. When there aren’t enough nurses to go around, patient care and safety suffers. The same is true for other types of healthcare professionals.

Typically, census data and staffing sheets can be obtained in written discovery. Given HIPAA protections, though, there is a limit to what can be gleaned from them on precisely how staffing levels impact patient safety.

Contrast that information with what’s sometimes available in social media. For instance, this week I saw a tweet by a pharmacist that said, “Our staffing for the pharmacy department is also atrocious. I’m covering way too many patients than what even remotely safe.”

What you can do

Many doctors and health care providers are online and posting to social media under their own name. There may be useful information available to patients, family members, and medical malpractice attorneys. Here at Painter Law Firm, we will certainly look there.

If you’ve been seriously injured because of poor medical or health care in Texas, then contact a top-rated experienced Texas medical malpractice lawyer for free consultation about your potential case.

Robert Painter is an award-winning medical malpractice attorney at Painter Law Firm PLLC, in Houston, Texas. He is a former hospital administrator who represents patients and family members in medical negligence and wrongful death lawsuits all over Texas. Contact him by calling 281-580-8800 or emailing him right now.


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